NORTH­ERN KRUGER

There are two types of stands in the Kruger: those along the fence and the rest. We un­hitched at three camps in the north of the Kruger to see what the dif­fer­ence is.

Go! Camp & Drive - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­tos Leon Botha

The north of the Kruger Na­tional Park is qui­eter than the south and also far­ther away from big cities like Pre­to­ria and Jo­han­nes­burg. It’s ele­phant and buf­falo coun­try, and the lush Bushveld that you find in the south makes way for fields of mopane trees.

When you camp here the stands next to the fence are first prize – just like in the rest of the Kruger. At Satara you can be one of the lucky 20 or so who pitch camp right next to the 300 m fence, but at Shing­wedzi things are a bit different: The 26 stands next to the fence are al­lo­cated be­fore­hand and you pay ex­tra for the priv­i­lege to camp closer to the an­i­mals. Far north in Punda Maria there’s a bird hide right against the fence and you’re not al­lowed to pitch in cer­tain parts next to the struc­ture.

Any­way, you can count your­self lucky if you man­age to bag one of the crown­ing jewels next to the fence be­cause they are ex­tremely pop­u­lar. But if you don’t it doesn’t mean your hol­i­day in the Kruger needs to be any less en­joy­able. >

SATARA In the open

Satara is syn­ony­mous with big cats such as lions, leop­ards and chee­tahs, and as you ap­proach the camp colos­sal yel­low­green fever trees stand out from the rest of the veld. The of­fice, restau­rant and shop are next to the trees and they are Satara’s hub of ac­tiv­ity. Don’t drive with your car­a­van in tow to the of­fice’s park­ing area be­cause no pro­vi­sion has been made for it. Where you would turn left to the park­ing area, turn right to the larger open park­ing area where the tour busses park. The camp­site is half a kilo­me­tre fur­ther on, past the pool, fill­ing sta­tion, and chalets. You can di­vide the camp into three parts: There are two sec­tions to the left and right of you (each with an ablu­tion block) and then there is the strip a bit fur­ther on that lies next to the fence, also with an ablu­tion block.

If you’re con­sid­er­ing one of the fence stands, first drive along the fence to see if you can find a spot. When we were there all 21 were taken, with the ex­cep­tion of one. The last two stands are re­served for peo­ple with med­i­cal needs (it’s one of those that was open). Judg­ing by who camps with what next to the fence, your chances of get­ting one of the stands are better if you have a car­a­van be­cause we spot­ted only three dome tents.

Of the 100-plus stands, those with elec­tric­ity are to the right and left of you as you drive into the camp­site, and the trees in the camp are fairly sparse if you’re look­ing for a shady spot. Try get­ting a spot close to the bath­rooms near the fence if you pre­fer newer fa­cil­i­ties. There’s neat slate around the sunken basins and be­hind those are mir­rors against the wall. The shower cu­bi­cles are un­for­tu­nately very small and you can only close the door once you’re in the mid­dle of the shower. It’s nice to have a wet and dry sec­tion in a shower but the cur­tain can be both­er­some and blow to­wards you when you open the taps.

Even if the camp­site is fully oc­cu­pied, the lay­out is so that you won’t fall over any­one’s feet. There’s a feel­ing of spa­cious­ness and you don’t have to try squeeze your tow­ing ve­hi­cle in some­where. That’s not the case in the front row how­ever; here you’re right on top of your neigh­bour.

The fixed steel braais are spread out ran­domly, as are the elec­tric­ity sock­ets. The shiny cop­per taps at the kitchens are a per­fect ex­am­ple of how clean SANParks’ peo­ple keep the fa­cil­i­ties.

A paved road runs around the camp and looks a bit like a run­ning track. And it’s just as big – one morn­ing a cou­ple ac­tu­ally did a few laps around the camp in their jog­ging clothes. Con­sid­er­ing SANParks’ stan­dards, the pool is modest – about as big as a round farm dam. There’s a smaller pool for kids and as well as a jun­gle gym.

If you’re con­sid­er­ing one of the fence stands, first drive along the fence to see if you can find a spot.

SHING­WEDZI Mopane farm

Judg­ing by the gi­ant mopane trees lit­tered about, Shing­wedzi stands out head and shoul­ders above the rest. And there are neat stands to boot.

It’s not, how­ever, the mopanes that draw the at­ten­tion. Shing­wedzi is the first of the Kruger’s camps that al­lo­cates fence stands be­fore­hand – and you pay more for th­ese stands.

The 26 stands are num­bered with a few fixed bricks with a num­ber painted on it. Be­cause you stand against the fence in a row, you’re right on your neigh­bours doorstep, but it’s a small price to pay for your un­in­ter­rupted view through the fence. The other half of the stands – 32 of them – lie be­hind the fence stands and it’s no­tice­able how much space you have around you when you camp, even when the camp­site is full.

The elec­tric­ity points are scat­tered all over, and at first it doesn’t bother you be­cause you can find a spot close to one. But on some of the stands you have to use your ex­tra long ex­ten­sion cord. Cars driv­ing over it can mean the end of your cord, and of course there’s the added dan­ger of a short cir­cuit. But the power boxes and cir­cuit break­ers look new. Some of the fixed steel braais have a swing­ing grid, but there are also loose-stand­ing units that you can move closer to your stand.

The lo­ca­tion of the bath­rooms is slightly weird. One of the build­ings is in an area as you drive into the camp and the other one near the mid­dle but out­side the bor­ders of the camp­site. It’s op­po­site the road be­tween the chalets, but at least you have a choice and there are fa­cil­i­ties for the dis­abled. The show­ers are sim­i­lar to those at Satara and equally cramped. The laun­dry is at the other bath­room – be pa­tient be­cause campers some­times for­get their clothes in the ma­chines and you have to come check when you can have a turn.

One of the Kruger’s typ­i­cal square kitchens is on the pool side of the camp­site and the other one closer to the mid­dle. Un­like Satara’s small pool, Shing­wedzi’s one could hardly be big­ger. The gate of the fenced-in pool is be­tween the top stands, on the op­po­site side of the bot­tom bath­rooms. When the sun starts set­ting the kids can con­tinue play­ing be­cause there’s a big spot­light next to the pool that turns on au­to­mat­i­cally as soon as it’s dark. You’re al­lowed to swim un­til 9 pm.

There’s a big spot­light next to the pool that turns on au­to­mat­i­cally as soon as it’s dark.

PUNDA MARIA King of the north

Punda Maria is the north­ern­most camp­site in the Kruger, and here you camp just a few kilo­me­tres from the Zim­bab­wian and Mozam­bi­can bor­ders. It’s laid out on the foot of a hill, and as you pass the fill­ing sta­tion after the gate you climb a steep road to the of­fice. But un­hitch first be­fore you drive to the of­fice. The stands are down to the left and there’s a sign next to the road that says car­a­vans are not al­lowed to go up. If you hap­pen to miss the sign you will be able to turn at the top in the park­ing area, but you’ll prob­a­bly have to un­hitch, turn around, and then hitch again.

The stands are just as spa­cious and spaced out as those at Shing­wedzi, but against the fence some of the stands are on top of each other and oth­ers are more pri­vate.

If you don’t ar­rive in time to get a fence stand, there’s a con­so­la­tion prize: There are sec­tions against the fence where you’re not al­lowed to pitch, which means that those stand­ing fur­ther back will also get >

a chance to see an­i­mals next to the camp. There’s a storey-high bird hide with a thatch roof next to the fence with a great view of the wa­ter­hole next to it. On both sides of the hide, a good 20 m on each side, you’re not al­lowed to pitch. In our case peo­ple camped about 10 m in front of us, and the fence was about 30 m fur­ther but we could eas­ily see the ele­phants cool­ing down in the muddy wa­ter.

As with the pre­vi­ous camp­sites, the braais and the elec­tric­ity points are scat­tered about and there are quite a few shade trees. But, again: If you’re de­pen­dent on elec­tric­ity the length of your ex­ten­sion cord will mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween shade and sun.

One of the bath­rooms is di­ag­o­nally across from the hide and the other one be­tween the camp­site and the foot­path where you walk up to the of­fice. In stark con­trast to the slate stone at the other bath­rooms in the Kruger, th­ese ones still have white tiles, which re­minds you a bit of an old gov­ern­ment build­ing. It’s clean though and there are also mir­rors against the wall. The tile­work is re­peated in the shower cu­bi­cle, and it’s also cramped with a cur­tain that can be both­er­some. The pool is op­po­site this and the laun­dry fa­cil­ity is just above the bath­rooms, but some of the ma­chines have seen better days and don’t work any­more. Re­mem­ber your R5 coins.

WATCH OUT, CROCK! The swim­ming pool of­fers wel­come respite dur­ing un­bear­ably hot weather. The power points for some of the stands are lo­cated so far away that you’ll need to bring quite a long ex­ten­sion cord if you’re go­ing to need elec­tric­ity and you’re camp­ing on one of those stands.

KEEP ‘EM PEELED. Make sure you try to see as many different an­i­mals as pos­si­ble on the way to Punda Maria. When you get there it will be dif­fi­cult to peel your eyes away from the wa­ter­hole next to the fence. Here the an­i­mals come and go as they please all day, ev­ery day.

WITH THE NAKED EYE. At Punda Maria the an­i­mals come so close to the fence that you won’t even need binoc­u­lars to get an eye­ful.

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